Imagine that you want to buy a house. Given the real estate market, it might be hard to imagine, but try anyhow and let's see what happens.
One day, you're called up by your perky real estate agent. "Have I got the house for you!" she exclaims as soon as you pick up the phone. "It's absolutely perfect. You're just going to love it. When can you come down and sign the contract?"
You're glad to hear something has come available. You've been searching for months. "I'd love to take a look at it," you tell her. "I have tomorrow afternoon open, if you can give me a tour then."
She seems a bit surprised at your suggestion. "I can't give you a tour of the house yet, but trust me, you're going to love it."
"Okay," you say, trying to be reasonable. "If you give me the address, I'll drive by it and take a look at the exterior and the neighborhood."
"That's not how this works," she says sternly. "But I can send you written descriptions of it, and even some paintings people have done. Trust me, it's the most amazing house you can imagine. When you see this, you're going to realize how important it is to take this offer while it's available."
"Alright," you say. "Send that over. Can you at least tell me the general area it's in?"
"It's right near your work, your gym, the stadium, and your brother's house."
"How can that be?" you ask. "My brother's house is nearly two hours from the stadium."
"I'll bring the packet over tomorrow," she responds brightly. "You'll see. It's amazing."
As promised, she arrives, beaming, at your door the following afternoon. She shoves a massive folder, stuffed to bursting with papers, into your arms. "Take a look at that!" she announces.
You start flipping through the pages. There are a lot of descriptions. One picture shows a big farmhouse, sitting in the midst of a lush green field. An account describes the luxurious swimming pool in the backyard. Another mentions having daily tea in the rose garden, and another how it's within easy walking distance of a favorite club. You can't help but notice that it's hard to make all of these accounts fit together cleanly, but the house sounds amazing.
Your agent watches you intently, and asks "So what did you think?" as soon as you flip past the final sheet of paper.
"It sounds nice, I guess," you respond. "Are you sure these are all talking about the same house?"
"Absolutely," she replies. "I told you it was perfect. I brought along the contract, since I knew you'd want to lock up this offer once you saw everything." She hands you another stack of papers.
You read through it. There's a lot of unfamiliar language, but you try your best to understand. "I see here the mortgage payment would be one-thousand dollars a month," you tell her, "but what's the total price? I don't see anything about how long the mortgage term is."
"That hasn't been decided yet, but they'll let you know when you've paid enough."
You're a bit stunned at this revelation, but the house does sound interesting. "Okay, how soon can I move in? I know you said they weren't ready to give tours yet."
"You can move in once your mortgage is paid off."
"That's not how mortgages work," you object. "I don't even know when my mortgage will be paid off anyhow!"
"I can see you're having some doubts," she responds calmly. "It happens to a lot of people. It's nothing to be ashamed of. I'll tell you what. In a few days I'm having a meeting with my many satisfied customers. Why don't you come along and see for yourself?"
And so, you soon find yourself in a medium-sized conference room with many other customers of your agent. She introduces you to them and tells them about the concerns you've raised.
An older gentleman, in a nice suit, immediately speaks up. "I had the same kind of doubts when I first heard about it. That's only natural. It just sounds too good to be true, you know. But it really is true. The house I bought is amazing. It's more than worth the price."
"So you're satisfied living in the house you bought?" you ask.
"Oh, I haven't moved in yet. I'm still making my payments."
"Have you been in it at all? Have you seen it in person?"
"Of course not, but look at it," he says, pointing to a beautiful oil painting of a marble mansion at the end of a long brick driveway. "This is my dream home."
"Has anyone actually moved into their house?" you ask your agent.
"Oh yes," she answers. "Many, many people have. Isn't that right, Karen?" she says, pointing to a middle-aged lady wearing a pink sweater.
Karen perks up immediately. "My mother moved into her house a few months ago," she announces brightly. "She's very happy there."
"Have you been to her house?" you ask Karen.
"Oh, no," Karen says, shocked at the question. "I don't know where it is. Only she does."
"Can we call her?" you ask.
"I'm afraid not," Karen replies. "I haven't heard from her since she paid off her mortgage and left for her new house."
"Then how do you know she's happy with it?" you ask.
"I just know it. It's like a special feeling. I think about how excited she used to get talking about it. She'd been making payments for nearly seventy years, so I'm sure she's happy to finally be in her house."
Turning to your agent again, you ask, "Is there anyone who has actually moved into their house that I can talk to?"
"No, dear," she responds sweetly. "They're all so happy in their new homes. Though if you want to read some firsthand accounts, I have these." She reaches into a drawer and withdraws some pages that are clearly ancient. They're yellowed and cracked, but they do clearly contain firsthand accounts of people talking about visiting their house for an extended period and then coming back to tell everyone about it.
"So, if that's answered all of your questions, are you ready to get started?" she asks kindly. She hands you the contract and a pen. "Just sign your full name right where you see the Xs," she tells you.
Do you sign?